One of the most popular questions we get asked is "As a Local what are your 'Do Not Miss' 'Beyond the Beach' Attraction Recommendations?"
After giving much thought to the question, (and with consideration that we like to promote the Gulf Shores/Orange Beach/Foley, Alabama area) "Beachin' Betty" and I decided upon what we considered our:
Top Five "Do Not Miss" Recommendations For The Traveler Seeking Cultural Experiences "Beyond The Gulf Shores, Alabama Beach" (With Suggested Restaurant Pairings)
with the idea that by touring these attractions prior to your beach arrival --- or as part of a beach vacation, guests to Gulf Shores will have an even more delightful, knowledgeable and insightful beach experience!
Interestingly enough our list consists of museums. Most of these recommendations are "Self-Guided Tours" and require Admissions. We encourage you to click the highlighted references on this post, and check out the attraction Facebook Pages or websites for more info.
After years of exploring, we have determined that unless you position yourself in front of a group nearest a tour guide and are adept at tuning out peripheral noise and conversations, you will miss much information given.
We have concluded we prefer the freedom to enjoy an attraction at our own pace and with whom we choose to explore with --- with minimal distractions. This is why we promote Self-Guided Tours as often as possible.
1) SUNDAY --- Take a Detour Off The Interstate to Visit The 5 Rivers Delta Resource Center in Spanish Fort:
If you go Sundays you may be able to catch a matinee in the theater. If you are lucky enough to watch the documentary America's Amazon you will be moved to want to learn more about the region.
"The Delta is the pumping heart of everything here" says Ben Raines, Executive Director of Weeks Bay Foundation and writer and narrator of the script.
Dr. Edward O. Wilson, Alabamian and Harvard Professor says in the film, "Arguably, the biologically richest place --- the Delta --- has more species and plants and animals than any place in North America ... Alabama has the largest number of fish species of any State (350) ... this area has the largest number of turtle species of any place in the World."
According to the video, Alabama has 77,000 miles of streams --- more miles of streams than any other State. "The challenge is to bring people to these places and show them how special they are before we lose them" implores Raines.
Beachin' Betty and I suggest taking light snacks and making a point to walk the trails of the Resource Center's 81 acres. You can walk along the rivers and try to imagine the scene during the Civil War battles.
Or you can just sit and observe the fishermen, boaters and various wildlife as they flit about.
Be sure to visit the museum. We got a kick out of seeing a giant taxidermy alligator in the museum. Talk about a Selfie kids can brag about!
Folks with your own kayaks can launch free from the Resource Center launch --- but there are also kayak and pontoon tours available.
We are never able to leave without purchasing some unique gifts for friends and family members from the gift shop.
In my opinion, visiting this museum and learning about the Delta, primes the pump for further interest of the unique bio-diversity of the Alabama Gulf Coast, and can create a lifetime dedication in the field of Conservation.
Hiking/Kayaking/ Exploring the 5 River's Delta will put you in the mood to dine at Felix's Fish Camp
The Turtle Soup is one of our favorite ways to begin a meal.
|PHOTO BY DAUPHIN ISLAND PARK AND BEACH BOARD|
|PHOTO BY MOBILE BAY FERRY|
Fort Gaines may have survived the Battle of Mobile Bay, but it is struggling to survive beach erosion.
According to the website savingplaces.org the beach erodes at a rate of nine feet yearly and is dependent on expensive beach nourishment stabilization to survive.
What makes Fort Gaines unique is that it is run by a private group --- so you can feel good your entry fee dollars help to support the effort to keep the attraction available. Most folks brag on the Blacksmith that shares folklore and interesting tales with guests.
Be sure to take a photo of your family on the 10 Hole Latrine. I'll bet you won't see a more unique "Selfie" image like that posted on "SnapGrabber" (joke).
Take the advice of most reviewers and go early to beat the heat.
Read more about how you can share your photos and experiences with others and help to save this endangered Historic Place: https://savingplaces.org/places/fort-gaines-1
When you return to Fort Morgan after a full day of exploring, you may want to try the fare at any one of the (New!) Airstream FoodTrucks located at The Village Lawn at Beach Club. The kiddos will most likely have energy to burn playing the various lawn games.
|PHOTO BY BELLINGRATH.ORG (THEODORE, AL) --- Bellingrath Gardens is celebrating 80+ year Anniversary and boasts a proud title of being recognized as an "American Castle of the South" and a Heritage Landmark of Alabama.|
3) WEDNESDAYS: 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. Reserve to Participate in An Informative Program Learning Anything From Beekeeping to Azalea Growing --- Then Tour Grounds At Bellingrath Gardens :
First-ladies, Beauty Queens and Hollywood celebrities have passed through the gardens. So did Walt Disney. Radio personality Paul Harvey broadcast from WABB to 300 radio affiliates across the country describing the 65 acres a "Garden of Eden."
What makes this landscape so unique is that the gardens are Riverfront. It is not difficult to imagine living the Southern-Belle lifestyle while strolling the grounds.
Fowl River boat tours are periodically offered where one can learn of the biodiversity of the river.
The photos above, right and below are from Bellingrath.org. For more info (and photos!) be sure to check out the Bellingrath Gardens and Home Facebook page.
We feel an outing such as the Bellingrath Garden Tour calls for a culmination at a restaurant equally as memorable.
We'd want to try Dauphin's --- the restaurant formerly known as the famous Bienville Club --- located on the 34th floor of the RSA BankTrust Building in Mobile.
Owner and former NFL Miami Dolphin great and University of Alabama All-American, Bob Baumhower brags, "You can see Ft. Morgan on a clear day." Check out Dauphin's
|PHOTO BY HISTORY MUSEUM OF MOBILE --- This building was once the City Hall and Market. It is a top recommendation by local historians.|
4.) To Learn of Mardi Gras Pageantry, Mobile's Port/Trade/History, The Civil War Influence And To Observe Wonderful Architecture --- Carve Out At Least Two to Three Hours To Tour The History Museum Of Mobile:
Beachin' Betty and I have been to several museums where she has been excited, yet moved to tears, by the exhibits. This is one of those places.
It is difficult to learn of Mobile's Port/Trade history and not shed tears for the inhumanity of events that took place. A portion of the exhibits can be solemn to observe.
Yet others can be enjoyable ---even for children --- like the doll house replicas of famous landmark homes of Mobile. Folks may also enjoy the sports memorabilia and history of Hank Aaron.
Beachin' Betty and I especially enjoy the Mardi Gras exhibits. The tour also helped to deepen our Fort and U.S.S. Alabama knowledge.
There are several great restaurants in Mobile. But after reading about the Port history you may want to eat at a Historic, yet casual, restaurant like the original, 75-year-old Wintzell's Oyster House
5) Do Not Leave Gulf Shores Without at Least Standing On The Deck Of The "Mighty A":
Military/History Buffs will enjoy reading all the information. Kiddos will enjoy the simulators and will really get a kick out of climbing the steps into the living quarters.
If folks are unable to negotiate steep, narrow steps, a family can still explore the museum, enjoy a picnic on the grounds and even throw a line off the pier.
There is nothing like standing on the deck of this magnificent ship overlooking Mobile Bay. If you're like us, you will be overcome with gratitude and appreciation for the sacrifices made so we can be afforded the opportunity to "sight see."
Our favorite times to visit are Independence Day and during the cooler months.
New to the attraction are Gulf Coast Duck Tours that will launch amphibious boats from the Battleship Park, will drive around Mobile, and end up in Mobile Bay --- "bridging Downtown Mobile, the CauseWay and Mobile Bay," says owner Scott Tindle.
"Beachin' Betty" and I haven't yet taken this tour, but make a point to catch a ride in any City where the tours are offered.
We also have yet to visit GulfQuest Maritime Museum --- but it is on our short list of "Things To See" this winter.
A fun restaurant to take the family after an outing at the U.S.S. Alabama might be the IslaMorada Fish Company inside the Bass Pro Shops in Spanish Fort. The kiddos will be plenty entertained with the giant aquarium --- and dad will feel right at home surrounded by the hunting, fishing and camping gear available for purchase.
Links To Five Additional "BeachnRiver" All-Time Favorite Alabama Gulf Coast Museums:
1) MOBILE --- "Beachin' Betty" is amazed at the intricate handiwork on robes, but kiddos will love climbing aboard the floats. Allow at least an hour to tour The Mobile Carnival Museum
To learn more about why Mobilians are so crazy 'bout Carnival season and Mardi Gras, read this article written in the Boston Globe by Patricia Harris "Catching the Mardi Gras Spirit in Alabama" dated Jan. 17, 2015
For some reason we get in the mood to eat Beignets and "get a hankerin' " to go to Panini Petes --- especially for the Mufalleta Panino
2) FAIRHOPE --- a jail is inside this museum! The Fairhope Museum of History
I get to thinkin' about the clink and to want to eat waterfront at Sunset Pointe at Fly Creek Marina --- where sailboat masts clink in the wind.
3) FOLEY/ELBERTA --- We enjoy the indoor exhibits, but OUTDOORS is what fascinates us. It is a miniature historic village with an old school house and other buildings. The pathways are gorgeous --- especially when Azaleas/Camellias are in bloom. Baldwin County History Museum
I can't think of a better way to round out the experience than to take the family to eat at Wolf Bay Lodge in Foley --- for the history of the place and for the "home-cooked" taste of some of the menu items --- like the Gumbo.
4) ORANGE BEACH --- How many towns can boast they have a glass blowing theater? It is amazing to watch the creations blown from molten glass into bowls, steam ware and more from The Hot Shop. Next door is a Clay Studio where famed potter Maya Cantrell teaches classes.
The original historic Art Center building was demolished, but a new Coastal Art Center is being built on the gorgeously landscaped and Live Oak shaded grounds.
We enjoy a stroll along the waterfront of Wolf Bay. We walk the pier and watch folks throw a fishing pole. At times one can watch kiddos man the sails of their Sloops from The Wind and Water Learning Center led by artist Nick Cantrell.
We feel like eating a wood-fired pizza just down the street (waterfront on Wolf Bay) at Cayman Grill after watching the artist at the Hot Shop. What do you think? Does that sound like a good choice to you?
5) BON SECOUR RIVER --- "Beachin' Betty" says she "gets lost in dreams" when we visit this historic Swift-Coles Historic Home on the river. The home's interior is a nice hour or so tour (the home is said to be haunted) --- and a favorite time to tour is at Christmas --- but we mostly enjoy the view of the Bon Secour River and the grounds of the Swift-Coles Historic Home.
It would be natural to suggest you eat at the Tin Top Restaurant "The Pearl Of Bon Secour" just up the street from the historic home, but on this occasion? We choose to go where there is a genteel Southern ambiance --- The Gift Horse Restaurant.
Just 20 years ago if you would have asked us what were our favorite forms of "entertainment" we would have listed: taking Road Trips, visiting spectacular Art Museums/Cathedrals/Historic Homes, attending Operas, diving into underground Blues or Jazz Bars, attending regional Music Festivals, hosting and popping in on "House Concerts," participating in Poetry-Slams, listening to Book Readings, Meditating in Public Gardens, Dining in Scenic Railway Cars, Sailing (rather --- being a passenger on a sailboat that uses their sails to tack and/or jib from one point to another) and Canoeing.
Oh, we've camped and hiked and bicycled several trails. When offered, we rode horseback through back country roads. We've explored caves. We've Traversed (it is now popular to say "Zip-lined") and Rappelled off mountain cliffs. We used to chase sunsets on a custom-built motorcycle, "co-piloted" small aircraft, taken helicopter and "Duck" tours --- and our vintage Airstream trailer led the way toward several "RVing" adventures.
Wherever "Beachin' Betty" and I have lived --- from large cities to isolated Country Hamlets (Hollers) --- we made a point to immerse ourselves in our cultural surroundings. We enjoyed our lives as "tourists" --- continually exploring local adventures.
We thought we'd retire in a Gulf Coast beach town, but after a cross-country trip in our vintage Airstream, we determined we specifically wanted to live near a Gulf Coast beach community with easy access to "City" pleasures --- hence our Foley address.
We feel we hit the jackpot when we found our Bon Secour River access property --- which allows us the best of two worlds --- a "Beach" and River" life experience.
Our location --- Foley, Alabama --- offers us a "Gateway" to all adventures along the Alabama Gulf Coast.
During the past 16 years (It is unbelievable we've been here so long!) we have explored many restaurants, museums, waterways, attended many festivals and hiked many trails, explored many parks from Bayou Le Batre to Dauphin Island to Mobile, to Fairhope, Loxley, Elberta, Lillian, Pensacola --- and to points of interest beyond.
We visited these attractions for our own enjoyment --- never expecting that someday we'd be writing, sharing first-hand photo experiences to participate in a "blog." (If you knew us, you would laugh out loud --- neither of us enjoy spending time on the computer and we have done our best to disassociate ourselves from modern technology. It wasn't long ago we had to develop film to see images of our travels --- so taking photos was not something we automatically thought to do).
So far this preface might fit under the "About" category of an official blog. But since we aren't professional bloggers we're writing this with the hope that you, the reader, will know that we really, really enjoy exploring our Cultural and Natural surroundings and that our recommendations aren't so much about what "we" like --- it is more that we feel we may have something in common with you, our kayaking guest, and would like to share our similarities with you.
With all this said, we have some all-time favorite places we'd like to encourage you to explore --- to further enrich your Gulf Shores Alabama Gulf Coast beach experience.
We offer up this blog and these recommendations as a way to "Pay it Forward" to thank all the folks who have written about us in their blogs, who have listed us as a "Favorite Activity" and who have participated in Forums or Reviewed our business.
We do not spend money on advertising. We trust in good (kind-hearted) people to spread the word of their good experience for us to earn our bread and butter --- and that "business model" has worked well for us.
We have included a list of businesses and blogs in a column to the right of this post. If you appreciated the referral of our business, we'd love if you would also support these businesses and interact on their blogs.
It is our hope you will also explore kayaking --- specifically taking a Self-Guided Tour on the Bon Secour River with BeachnRiver Kayak Rentals this Summer (through August 15).
And if we offer kayaking excursions on other bodies of water --- our "Self-Guided/Guided" Tours this Autumn, Winter of 2016 and Spring of 2017 maybe we can "put you on the water then!"
Thanks for reading. I hope the above mentioned suggestions will motivate you to "Go Forth and EXPLORE" --- "Beyond the Beach."
"River Rick" of BeachnRiver Kayak Rentals